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Posture and Balance

by Kaye West

You have an instrument that you use in round dancing -- that instrument is your body. You "play" it by moving it to the rhythm and beat of the music. To look good on the dance floor -- and to feel good while dancing -- you need to master appropriate body posture and balance. When you accomplish it, you'll enjoy your dancing even more than ever and you will feel less fatigue.

Good body posture has an overall appearance of being "ready for action." That is accomplished by maintaining some firmness in your body (not too much) and yet remaining poised, responsive, and fluid. You should not be so tense that your movements are forced, angular, or mechanical; you shouldn't look like you're hanging on for dear life. On the other hand, you should not be too limp or draggy, as if you had either insufficient energy or desire to be there. You should be like a good angelfood cake -- not stale so it's rigid; not improperly done so it's flat in appearance; but light, springy, and fresh -- definitely appealing esthetically.

Here are some suggestions to acquire and maintain a comfortable, relaxed, and graceful posture:

  1. Stand tall with stomach and buttocks held in and chin up (yet not way up) so your head is at that perfect balance point where it feels weightless. Breathe deeply and imagine that your center of gravity is between your waist and shoulders -- at your diaphragm area -- instead of below your waist. This will make your carriage actually "feel" light. Once in this position, relax your shoulders so they are in a position similar to that when carrying two suitcases.

  2. Unless the figure demands otherwise (such as in the Latin rhythms), in normal walking steps your toes should point straight ahead each time you step forward, rather than pointing in (i.e., pigeon-toed) or pointing out (duck-footed).

  3. Pick your feet off the floor with every step instead of shuffling them along the floor as is common in square dancing. Step lightly, whether the figure requires you to step with the heel first (as in regular walking) when you do "walking" steps, or with the toe first (as in regular running) when you do "running" steps or when you walk backwards.

  4. The size of your stride will vary somewhat with the rhythm of the music. You have time for slightly longer steps with slower music; quicker tempos demand shorter steps. Your normal stride also varies with your size! But, watch out! You and your partner are a team and you should look like it. Consequently, partners should strive to have matching strides. Generally it is easier in beginning round dancing to match a shorter stride than a longer one, but with experience you will probably lengthen your stride. Also, since the circle that the man makes is normally inside the circle the lady makes around the floor, his circle is also smaller. Therefore, the couple must adjust for that difference as well -- especially on a small floor.

  5. Slightly bend or "flex" your knees in the two-step and smooth dance rhythms so that they are constantly ready for action. They should not be stiff and rigid; neither should they be overly bent. In some of the Latin rhythms, such as the rumba, the legs are kept straight a good deal of the time.

  6. When in a dance position where you have contact with your partner (that is most of the time), assume the full weight of your OWN arms. There is nothing so disconcerting as having to hold up someone else's arms! It strains the arms as well as the back! When you hold up your own arms, it is possible to maintain dance position for a much longer period of time than when one partner (typically the man) holds up his partner's arms. However, do feel free to press against your partner for balance at points of contact, especially in learning a new figure. As your dancing progresses, strive to maintain your own balance throughout the figure. A mark of an accomplished dancer is that there is a feeling of dancing with someone who is "light as a feather." That is certainly a desirable attribute to strive toward.

  7. When your arms are free, that is when they have no contact with your partner, they should be poised in a relaxed manner out and away from the body with the elbows slightly bent. The image is that you are ready to resume Closed Position at any moment. The hands, therefore, should be nearly shoulder high and poised; the arms should not hang loose and lifeless at your side. Different individuals will find styling that suits them personally. To determine a satisfactory position for you, check the mirror to help decide what looks pleasing and feels good.

When dancing, it is critical that both dancers individually maintain their own balance. The notion of balance guides where feet are placed in many figures because balance is maintained when the majority of the weight of the body is directly over the foot that bears the weight of the body. Since the head is the heaviest part of the body, a guideline to follow to be in balance is that your earlobe should be directly over the ankle bone of the foot that is assuming the weight of the body. If you outstep or understep this point, you will likely be off balance.

Even in advanced figures such as the Contra Check, Hinge, and Develope, both partners should be able to do their part independently without excessive leaning on the partner. When a dancer feels a great deal of pressure from the partner, very likely the foot placement or body alignment of one or both is off slightly, making the person(s) unable to maintain balance properly.

From Fancy Footwork, The Art of Round Dancing by Kaye West (formerly Kaye Anderson), Ph.D., Dance Action, PO Box 7162, Mesa, Arizona, second edition, © 1992. Kaye is associate professor emeritus from the Department of Teacher Education, California State University, Long Beach. Reprinted in the Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC) Newsletter, October 2011.


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